Lucas at Large: Overshadowed, UW's freshman proves he can play too

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When David Lighty signed his NCAA national letter of intent to play basketball at Ohio State, Josh Gasser was in the eighth grade.

That was November of 2005.

Gasser_sm.jpgGasser and his UW teammates came of age Saturday at the expense of Lighty and the Buckeyes whose unbeaten season and No. 1 ranking are history.

There was one sequence in particular that turned out be very defining for Gasser and Wisconsin while spelling trouble for Lighty and Ohio State.

After the Buckeyes went up by 15 points, the Badgers started to chip away as Jordan Taylor scored and drew a foul on Lighty, his second of the game.

Seconds later, Gasser got tied up with Lighty. Consider the mismatch in experience: Gasser has played in 24 college games. Lighty has played in 145.

Yet, when push came to shove, the UW's true freshman refused to back down to OSU's fifth-year senior. A double foul was called at 12:36.

"That's fun, that's why I play the game - I enjoy getting down there and battling guys for position,'' Gasser said of his physical tug-of-war with Lighty.

"I kind of got into his head a little bit. I got him a foul, so now he has to be less aggressive. All of those little things kind of add up throughout the game.''

This one certainly did.

Lighty now had three fouls and OSU coach Thad Matta pulled him.

The Buckeyes led by 13 points when Lighty left.

They led by five points when Lighty returned.

Matta not only lost his inspirational leader during that stretch, but he lost one of his potential defensive options against Taylor for some critical minutes.    

In the first half, the Buckeyes checked Taylor with the 6-5 William Buford, the 6-6 Jon Diebler, the 6-5 Lighty and the 6-2 Aaron Craft, a true freshman.

When Taylor went on his scoring spree - sparking the Badgers on a 15-0 run - he took advantage of Craft's inexperience and overpowered him.

"You wouldn't want anyone else as your point guard,'' Gasser said of Taylor. "That guy has so much heart. He's got guts. And he's tough as nails.''

Taylor led the charge. Despite falling behind 47-32, Gasser said the Badgers retained their faith thanks to a number of influences on the floor and off.

"At that point, you're just trying to stay mentally strong and focused,'' Gasser explained. "A lot of teams would break down and fold. Ours didn't.

"Coach Ryan and our team leaders just told us, 'Keep playing and chip away at the lead and we'll get back in this thing.' And that's what we did. The crowd got back into it, and then there wasn't much stopping us.''

Gasser did his part by going 3-of-3 from beyond the 3-point arc.

"They were really trying to take away Jordan on ball screens and the bigs on the pick-and-pops,'' said Gasser. "So I knew I would get a few open looks.''

In addition to scoring 11 points, he had seven defensive rebounds.

"Keaton (Nankivil) and Jon (Leuer) had a big task in containing (Jared) Sullinger,'' Gasser said. "Their job was to get a body on him and not let him get rebounds. Other guys were going to have to come in and clean up a little bit.''

Gasser ran into Sullinger during a loose ball scramble.

The 280-pound Sullinger stuck out his arm and flattened Gasser.

After getting up, Gasser said, "I couldn't feel my face.''

He didn't get the license plates, either.

"I don't know what he hit me with,'' Gasser said. "I don't know if he hit me that hard. But let me tell you, it had a lot of force behind it. He's a great player.''

Once again, though, Gasser didn't back down. Late in the game, he attacked the offensive glass and kept the ball alive resulting in a Leuer rebound.

"It was a huge play when Jon got it,'' Gasser said, "because it was another possession for us and we got to run a little more clock which is the biggest thing you want to do when you have the lead.''

From start to finish, Gasser felt energized by the crowd.

"It was awesome - that's college basketball right there,'' he said. "I wasn't nervous at all. I was just enjoying the moment. The guys were saying this doesn't happen very often (playing No. 1) so enjoy it, and embrace it, and I did.''

Sullinger and Craft have been important components in Ohio State's success this season. To a lesser degree, so has Deshaun Thomas.

All are freshmen.

Leading up to Saturday's matchup in Madison, that's all everybody was talking about, too, Ohio State's talented freshmen, namely Sullinger and Craft.

"I tried not to listen to that stuff, but it happens,'' said Gasser, the freshman that nobody was talking about. "Their roles are a little different than mine. Sullinger is their main guy. Craft is their point guard.''

That being said, Gasser added, "I tried to show that I can play as well.''

Done deal.

"You want to say it's just another game,'' Gasser continued. "But this was a big one, a huge game for us. We needed to win not only because they were the No. 1 team but we needed to win to get back into the Big Ten race.

"We're only two games back, so we know that we still have a shot. And we're going to keep grinding it out and see what happens at the end.''

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Thought Ohio State's Craft was very effective in the first half denying Taylor the ball once Taylor had given up the ball to initiate the offense. Apparently it took too much out of Craft to keep that up all game. Like his game though. He's going to be a pain in the ... for the next three years.

I also thought Ohio State benefitted from using Lighty to defend Leuer while Leuer had a hard time trying to guard Buford. It's my opinion that the second half run was not only about Taylor turning it on, but also turning Buford off. For part of that run the Badgers pulled Leuer and played some "small ball" with Evans and Brusewitz. Lighty's third foul helped too.

Buford is going to have a nice NBA career. Reminds me of Bobby Dandrige. Sullinger needs another year. What happened to Thomas. Only played 6 minutes and put up a bunch of doughnuts. Freshman wall?

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